Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Why Adam Rank predicts Ambry Thomas to be 49ers’ breakout star in 2022

Jun 1, 2022 at 11:38 AM--

NFL Media analyst Adam Rank has been good-natured about the jokes and ridicule stemming from his San Francisco 49ers three-win prediction in 2019. It's probably time to move past that, no matter how much fun The Faithful has had with it. For some, that may be a challenge. Rank is well aware of that.

Rank hasn't made his record prediction for the 49ers' upcoming season just yet. However, he did take a detailed look at the team, as he does annually for every NFL team.

There is much to unpack from his "State of the 2022 San Francisco 49ers" feature for NFL.com. Rank expresses his confidence in head coach Kyle Shanahan's ability to show off his brilliance no matter the quarterback—Jimmy Garoppolo or Trey Lance. Speaking of the quarterback situation, he acknowledges that Garoppolo remaining on the roster is awkward. However, it was unavoidable given how the offseason unfolded, with Garoppolo undergoing shoulder surgery on March 8, plummeting his trade value.

"I guess the best-case scenario is that there is a quarterback emergency in the preseason and the Niners are able to unload Garoppolo to a team in need," wrote Rank. "But that seems like a kind of dubious way for that to unfold."

Rank praises defensive end Nick Bosa, projecting the pass rusher to be the team's 2022 MVP. It's a safe bet, especially with the Deebo Samuel situation unsettled.

"Bosa was out there performing at an elite level last season and finished with 15.5 sacks [despite coming off a knee injury]," Rank noted.

Rank even liked the 49ers' first selection in this year's draft—defensive end Drake Jackson, who could flourish opposite Bosa, creating a formidable pass-rushing tandem.

Then you have Rank's prediction for the 49ers' breakout star in 2022. This seems more challenging given the many roster options. You could go with one of the young rookies. Or maybe a veteran player who has been on the cusp of some big-time production? Instead, the analyst went with a second-year player. No, not Lance.

Rank went with cornerback Ambry Thomas.

"I felt bad for Thomas last year," Rank shared. "The 2021 third-round pick was inactive for most of the first half of the season after a rough training camp. Eventually, he was forced onto the field due to injuries. And you know how this goes: When you're not playing well, the ball always seems to find you. ... But Thomas played well down the stretch and ended up being reliable. He's a projected starter heading into the season."

Before you scratch your head on that last part, it is worth noting that NFL Media contributor Gregg Rosenthal listed three starting cornerbacks for the 49ers rather than two, obviously acknowledging the importance of the nickel position. They are free-agent acquisition Charvarius Ward, veteran Emmanuel Moseley, and Thomas.

Last season, Thomas seemed to turn things around during Week 16 against the Tennessee Titans. His game-to-game Pro Football Focus coverage grades improved considerably starting with that matchup, which carried over into the playoffs. Thomas' rookie campaign obviously showed promise, leading Rank to think highly of the young corner's potential in year two.

"The fact that AT, he earned that opportunity [to start] as he kept coming through the season," defensive pass-game specialist and secondary coach Cory Undlin said last week. "But he didn't play in 2020, so I think that gap ... that's a long time when you sit out a year, COVID or not.

"And so, once he got up to speed and got to the point where he was playing fast enough, and then to be able to go out there in big games and play in big games, that was more important than probably anything for him and his growth. Now, you definitely feel like he's on the rise.

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